Chauncey Brewster Tinker - Inspiration to Stephen Vincent Benét?
Yale University Art Gallery
In his Foreword to Stephen Vincent Benét's juvenalia, Young Adventure: A Book of Poems (1918), published when Benét was merely 20, the professor of English literature at Yale and leading Boswell scholar Chauncey Brewster Tinker wrote the following words:
[Prior to the Great War,] we passed into a false freedom [in poetry] that had at its heart a repudiation of all law and standards, for a parallel to which one turns instinctively to certain recent developments in the political world. We may hope that the eager search for novelty of form and subject may have its influence in releasing us from our old bondage to the commonplace and in broadening the scope of poetry; but we cannot blind ourselves to the fact that it has at the same time completed that estrangement between the poet and the general public which has been developing for half a century. The great mass of the reading world, to whom the arts should minister, have now forgotten that poetry is a consolation in times of doubt and peril, a beacon, and "an ever-fixed mark" in a crazed and shifting world. Our poetry - and I am speaking in particular of American poetry - has been centrifugal; our poets have broken up into smaller and ever smaller groups. Individualism has triumphed.In this collection of poems, Benét never once mentions America, but he was perhaps affected these words by Tinker, namely, that "[o]ur poetry - and I am speaking in particular of American poetry - has been centrifugal; our poets have broken up into smaller and ever smaller groups," for Benét went on in his more mature works to make an attempt at bringing the varied pieces of America together in a single vision, as we have already seen in his Invocation to John Brown's Body some ten years later, in 1928:
So, from a hundred visions, I make one,In adopting 'Americanism,' Benét set himself up for "some critics to label him an old-fashioned, quaint, and chauvinistic writer," as has been widely noted.
And out of darkness build my mocking sun.
But Benét is broader than that, as we have seen and shall again see . . .